The US and UK have launched a coordinated effort to disrupt what they say is a long-running Russian government hacking campaign aimed at what they say is an attempt to undermine democratic processes in their countries.
The UK has accused Russia’s main intelligence agency of trying to hack the emails of British politicians and officials in an attempt to interfere with its democratic processes, and added two Russian nationals to the list of those punishment on Thursday.
“They targeted high-profile people and entities with a clear objective: to use the information they obtained to interfere in British politics,” Foreign Office Minister Leo Docherty told the House of Commons. on Thursday.
The intrusions include targeting personal email accounts and impersonation attempts against universities and media organizations, according to Docherty. Civil servants and journalists were also targeted by Russia’s Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, he said.
In the US, the conspiracy has targeted current and former employees of the intelligence community, Department of Defense, Department of State, defense contractors and Department of Energy facilities since 2016, according to a statement from the Justice Department last Thursday.
A US federal grand jury in San Francisco this week indicted two individuals authorized by the UK for allegedly running a campaign to hack computer networks in the US, the UK and other NATO countries and Ukraine, for the Russian government, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday.
“Today’s indictment is part of a coordinated international response to send a message to the conspirators that the entire United States government is united and with our international partners to identify and disrupt the actors of cyber espionage, especially those who seek to obtain government information and attempt to disrupt democratic processes,” said US Attorney Ismail Ramsey for the Northern District of California in a statement.
The FSB did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
John Hultquist, principal analyst at Mandiant Intelligence, a cybersecurity unit of Google, told Bloomberg that the group targeted organizations in the US as recently as this week and the UK as recently as this month, and that the their activities are important because the FSB is relatively new. player in the election space. “This actor is one to watch closely as the election approaches,” he said, adding the hacked emails have been shown to be a powerful tool in the political interference campaign.
The US State Department’s Rewards for Justice program is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the identification or location of two people indicted this week.
Last November, the UK’s National Cyber Security Center warned that state-sponsored hackers and Russia posed a “persistent and significant threat” to the country. The agency says that Russia is one of the largest state actors in cybercrime, and dedicates significant resources to conducting hacking operations internationally.
The UK says the cyber group, known by various names including Callisto Group and Star Blizzard, has been targeting UK politicians since 2015 and is linked to the FSB’s Center 18.
Center 18 is also connected to the FSB’s British allies. The US indicted two FSB officers from the group in 2017 for breaching millions of email accounts.
Center 18 targeted personal email addresses, using extensive research through social media to capture contacts of politicians and officials to appear legitimate and send malicious links, according to Docherty.
In addition to attacks carried out by the Russian military or state-sponsored hackers, Russian-linked criminal gangs also pose a major threat to the UK. This year, gangs have broken into a range of high-profile companies and organisations, including Barts Health NHS Trust, government contractor Capita Plc, and postal company Royal Mail.
Photo: Photographer: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
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